'Space stations' to transform Riyadh in mega metro project

Story highlights

  • $22 billion project to build new metro network in Saudi Arabian capital
  • 85 stations and 176 km of train lines will be built over five years
  • Currently only 2% of commuters in Riyadh use public transport
  • Zaha Hadid Architects have designed one of the flag-ship stations

Can car-loving Saudis be convinced to step out of their air-conditioned comfort and take public transport?

The Saudi Arabian government believes they can and is backing its belief by investing $22 billion into a public transport mega-project in the capital Riyadh.

Set to begin construction early next year, a new metro network will encompass over 176 km (110 miles) of train lines and 85 stations, linking the city center to universities, the airport, a newly built financial district and commercial areas.

The first trains as slated to run in 2019. During construction, it will be the world's biggest public transport project, employing tens of thousands of people, developers say.

According to the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh, all carriages will be air-conditioned and divided into first, family and single class.

Buses and trains take a distant second to personal cars in Riyadh and according to FCC Construction only 2% of commuters in the Saudi Arabian capital take public transport.

It's no surprise because gasoline is highly subsidized -- a gallon at the petrol pumps costs around $0.50. According to Bloomberg, the world's largest oil producer ranks only second to Venezuela for the world's cheapest gasoline. According to reports, the Saudi government is weighing up increasingly the cost of fuel to give public transport a boost.

Read more: Ramadan's Super Bowl effect

Chronically underdeveloped until now, the expansion of public transport in the Saudi capital will also cope with the projected boom in the local population. It has more than doubled since 1990 to 5.3 million and is set to top 8 million by 2030.

"Riyadh today is one of the world's fastest growing cities and our citizens deserve a world-class public transport system to enhance their quality of life... it will also help to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality," said Ibrahim Bin Muhammad Al Sultan President of Arriyadh Development Authority and Member of the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh.

Of the six lines to be built, three will be constructed by Spain's FCC Construction company, working in partnership in a consortium including Samsung and Alstom. U.S. Firm Bechtel and Italian company Ansaldo STS lead the other two construction consortia.

Read more: Google's view from world's tallest building

As well as an extensive network, it is hoped that the stunning look of some the new stations will help to tempt locals away from their cars.

Zaha Hadid Architects will build the King Abdullah Financial District station, one of the flagship interchange stops along Line 1. With six platforms spread over four floors, and linking three of the new lines, the architects hope it will provide a multi-function public space.

According to the architects, the white facade of the station will reduce heat from the punishing desert sun while the undulating lines of the building are meant to resemble the patterns generated by desert winds on sand dunes.

        Inside the Middle East

      • Aquaventure was expanded in 2013 to include a Leap of Faith ride that passes through a shark-filled aquarium. Visitors can swim in a manmade lagoon filled with marine animals.

        Theme park dreams

        Robot dinosaurs, Lego men and Spider-Man all could become Dubai's newest residents.
      • Al Nassma is the first camel milk chocoalte company in the world. The Dubai-based company had gone global, and Al Nassma products are carried in high-end department stores around the world, including London's Selfridges.

        Getting over the hump

        Not long ago camel milk was an unfancied staple, the preserve of Bedouin herders. Now its becoming a luxury.
      • Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, 'House of God' that Muslims believe was built by Abraham 4,000 years ago, on September 30, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers started pouring into the holy city for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. This year's Hajj comes as the authorities strive to protect pilgrims from two deadly viruses, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus or MERS

        Hi-tech Hajj

        Managing over 2 million people during the Hajj takes some serious technology.
      • Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia compete's as one of only two women from the country at the London Olympic Games.

        On the right track?

        More needs to be done so women from Saudi Arabia can become world champions in sports.
      • Micro stories magnified

        The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
      • Super-sizing airports

        Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.